Hated encryption bill should prompt U.S. intelligence reform


You don’t need anything decrypted to see that nobody likes the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016, the draft encryption bill released two weeks ago. Coauthored by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the bill would allow courts to order companies to break encryption on communications and devices for law enforcement purposes.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike it. Here are mine, along with some thoughts about what the bill reveals about our government’s approach to intelligence.

1. The proposed bill won’t work as a deterrent to unlawful activity. Terrorists, drug dealers, malicious hackers and other “bad guys” are going to continue to encrypt their communications, because by definition they’re not worried about breaking the law. The result is that the bill would essentially hobble the law-abiding with bad security while keeping criminals untouchable.

2. The bill will drive up the cost of communications even as it undermines data security. Under its provisions, as a service provider I now have to maintain a (costly) log of historical information so that if the government requests such data, I can provide it. By keeping such records, I expose every client in my data center to the risk of a security breach. Bank of America, Target, and the U.S. government couldn’t stop these security breaches, so it’s likely we’ll see more of them if the bill wins traction.

Fortunately, that’s unlikely to happen, as it’s clear to most everyone that the bill doesn’t work. What the bill does do is reveal a misunderstanding of the diversity of modes of communication used today, particularly by younger demographics.

The bill covers data exchanged via voice, email, chat, and some forms of video communication but leaves out other important mediums like image-based communications and collaboration tools such as web and video conferencing. For a simple example of how prevalent and easy image-based communication is, watch just about any college football game. You’ll see that plays are called by a person on the sideline holding up a poster with four meaningless — but memorable — pictures on it. The specific combination and location of images quickly conveys to the players what play has been called.

The bill’s omission of image-based and other important communications shows that it is clearly a creation of the over-40 set. As such, it reflects something of an over-40 mindset, which holds that the most important information is transmitted primarily over phone and email. In our efforts against the terrorist plots of today, in which perpetrators are overwhelmingly young people using social media and other new communication technologies, this strategy seems doomed to fail.

In the big picture, most of us likely agree that it’s critical we evaluate the trade-offs we are willing to make in order to help our government protect us while still retaining our rights. But end-to-end encryption is a genie out of its bottle, and it will be hard to stuff back in.

Rather than trying, we need to answer the key intelligence questions that the rapid rise of consumer communication technologies has forced. Have we developed the technical expertise and capabilities to handle the new style of communication favored by young people? Have we built the machine learning and AI tools necessary to discover repetitive pattern and other information that might be embedded in images and other command and control type messaging systems? With the proliferation of so many forms of communication in recent years, is it even realistic to expect that we can sit on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Threema, Kik, Wickr, and SureSpot — all favored by ISIS — and get the intelligence we need to build an effective anti-terrorism strategy?

I suspect that part of the way forward is a return to some of the human intelligence approaches that we’ve pulled away from over recent decades in our focus on signal intelligence. Technological might is without a doubt a crucial piece of the counter-terrorism and crime-fighting puzzle, but diplomatic activity, outreach programs, and other on-the-ground strategies are more than passing complements. The botched bill may have exposed Congress’ poor grasp of technology, but it also hints at the limits of that same technology and, if nothing else, may be useful as a push on the intelligence community to craft a new vision for itself.

Curtis Peterson is senior vice president of operations at RingCentral.

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Opposition to bitcoin isn’t unique. We’ve seen this before — with a happy ending


Over the weekend, I found myself watching “Tesla: Master of Lightning,” a PBS production streaming on Netflix. From the story of Nikola Tesla, I saw parallels between his invention, alternating current (AC), and what bitcoin has been experiencing for some time now.

On June 6, 1884, Tesla arrived in New York. The Serbian immigrant, who was from modern day Croatia, was thrilled to finally meet his hero, Thomas Edison, the renowned American inventor, who was the force behind direct current (DC).

Tesla could not wait to wow Edison with his alternating current discoveries. Up to that moment, many of the people he had explained the technology to, including his professors, had dismissed it.

He believed Edison, being heavily involved with the science of electricity, would not only understand how alternating current would change the world, but would also help him bring it to commercial use.

Edison did hire him, thanks to the letter of introduction from Charles Batchelor, a business associate of his in Europe. However, he would hear nothing of Tesla’s AC power system.

“My personal desire would be to prohibit entirely the use of alternating currents. They are unnecessary as they are dangerous,” Edison is quoted saying.

If you replace the words “alternating currrents” with “bitcoin,” the statement above could as well have been uttered by Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s Chairman, President and CEO.

Giving up acquired turf

Since the 1870s, Edison built his business in North America and Europe around DC technology. New York was running entirely on his invention; he had invested a lot in the technology.

As expected, he was not ready to give up the turf he had acquired. At least not willingly. Do not expect the banking industry to be any different.

After working for Edison for a few months and helping improve the efficiency of his DC systems, Tesla branched in 1887 amid some acrimony, opened his own laboratory, and started working on his longtime dream of making AC work for humankind.

He best understood that while DC was a great leap from using candles for lighting and raw animal force for turning mortars, it had inefficiencies that could be taken care of by alternating current.

The voltage of a direct current cannot be changed. What is generated is just what is consumed. That means that if electricity is generated with too high voltage, bulbs will blow up on the other end.

There was also the issue of transmission over long distances. To do that with DC, you needed very thick copper wires and you needed boosting stations after every mile or so.

On the other hand, the voltage of AC can be raised and lowered using transformers. Even more important, high voltage electricity can be transmitted over long distances without the need for boosting stations.

In addition, the voltage could be controlled depending on the needs of the machine or bulb on the other end.

Negative media campaign

Edison embarked on a negative media campaign and took it upon himself to demonstrate to the public how this new technology was dangerous.

He went as far as electrocuting animals using AC in public shows. It is also said that he orchestrated the use of AC to execute criminals just to drive the point home that AC could only be associated with death.

This parallels the effort many have put into portraying bitcoin as dangerous. Making it look like the perfect tool for criminals and terrorists.

By all accounts, Edison was winning the ‘War of Current’, as it came to be known — a feud that is also well captured by Author Jill Jonnes in her book Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World.

People who mattered and were in positions of power gave Edison their ears.

The famous British Physicist Lord Kelvin, for example, sent a cable to members of a commission he chaired that was tasked with finding ways to tap the power of the Niagara Falls, suggesting they “avoid the gigantic mistake of AC.”

Tesla had an opportunity to change this perception in front of 100,000 spectators, a crowd that included Lord Kelvin. Westinghouse, the company he worked for, had just won a contract to light that year’s Columbian exposition in Chicago. It was to be the first fair in the world to be lighted by electricity.

Westinghouse won the contract for the simple reason that it quoted a significantly lower price ($0.5million) than Edison’s General Electric did ($1 million). This difference was made possible by the AC technology.

In an effort to stop Tesla, GE refused Westinghouse permission to use its incandescent lamps at the fair. But Westinghouse worked overtime and devised lamps for the occasion.

As night fell on May 1, 1893, eager spectators filed into the fairgrounds. President Grover Cleveland pressed a button and the whole ground, and the surrounding environment, exploded with light never seen before.

And that ushered in a new era of electricity. Everywhere you look now; everything is happening thanks to alternating current.

These challenges AC technology had to overcome to be where it is now are so removed from us that it’s hard to imagine its adoption was in question at the beginning.

Likely, a number of years from now, it will be the same with bitcoin and blockchain technology.

Rupert Hackett is the Community Manager at BuyaBitcoin.com.au. He specializes in the digital currency and digital payment space and is currently studying the world’s first Master’s in digital currencies alongside entrepreneurship. He writes for multiple bitcoin websites and regularly blogs for buyabitcoin.com.au.

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Hearthstone 101: How beginners tackle Standard and Whispers of the Old Gods


If you’ve ever been interested in playing Blizzard Entertainment’s collectible card juggernaut Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft but never jumped in, now is a great time to give it a try.

This week, new players have a bit easier time getting started. Several decks poofed from that mode, meaning that you’re not as far behind veteran players than you think you are. The new mode limits players to cards released in the past two years, and to classic cards from the very start of the game. It’s how Blizzard is attempting to keep Hearthstone fresh and engaging for veterans while still making it less intimidating for new players — a key strategy in the new $1.2 billion card game market. Hearthstone’s the leader here, making $20 million a month, according to SuperData.

You can also pick up 13 free card packs just for trying the game this week, thanks to the launch of the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion.

“For beginners it won’t be a big change,” said Hearthstone senior designer Mike Donais. “All of their Basic and Classic cards are still fully playable in Standard. Standard is a great format for them because they don’t need to worry about buying or learning about [Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion] and Naxxramas [adventure] cards.

“Everyone will be experimenting with new deck ideas in Standard, which is a great time to be a new player.”

But you’ve never played a collectible card game, let alone Hearthstone, you say. No problem! Just four short months ago, I was there with you: I had played three games to get the shiny horse in World of Warcraft (don’t judge), but I then dropped it again immediately. I’d never played a CCG before, ever.

So when I started again in December, I was still well and truly noob. I made a ton of mistakes, and met a bunch of far more experienced players who helped me to figure the game out. Hearthstone has ranks from 25 (worst) to 1 (best), and above that, Legend ranks count upward for competitive tournament players.

In about two months, I made rank 13 (roughly the top 25 percent of Hearthstone players,) and I’ve hit that level fairly consistently in the past few seasons. So can you. Here’s how.


Above: A Hearthstone game in progress.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

OK, so how does this thing work?

Each player in Hearthstone has a hero. Get your opponent’s hero from 30 health at the start to zero health and you win. Let your own hero get to 0 and you lose.

Before you play, you’ll select a deck of 30 cards. You can choose what type of hero you want to play – Mage, Shaman, Paladin, Priest, Hunter, Warrior, Warlock, or Druid. You start with premade decks, and this is a blessing. Stick with that until you get better.

You can play against the computer A.I. or against human beings. Hearthstone is family-friendly; you can’t actually chat with other players (unless you request to be friends with them or vice versa.) Instead, you can use “emotes” – limited phrases, like “Wow!” or “Oops” or “Hello.”

Your deck will have minions, which become little creatures on the playing board, and spells, which you can use to make your own minions stronger, other minions weaker, do damage, heal things, and a variety of other effects. You will take turns with your opponent, playing cards.

Each class has a particular “hero power” – a basic ability that you don’t have to get a card to use. Paladins can summon little guards with 1 attack and 1 health, for example. Priests can heal two points of health. Warlocks can draw an extra card, sacrificing 2 points of health to get more resources. And so on.


Above: The mage’s Hero Power is tossing a 1 damage fireball at any minion or the opposing hero.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

At the start, you will have three or four cards for your hand. You can choose to reject some or all of them, and other cards from your deck will replace them.

In general, look for low-cost minions to start the match. If you don’t have any, click on the highest-cost cards you’ve been dealt to get rid of them and try for a lower card.

You will either receive three cards, in which case you go first, or four cards, in which case you’ll receive “The Coin” – a 0-mana card that gives you an extra point of mana. Mana is what limits how many cards you can play each round. Each player starts with 1 mana, and the amount increases each round of play until both are capped at 10.

Each round, Hearthstone will deal another card for your hand, and you can choose to play whatever cards you have the mana for.


Above: Five cards from a new Whispers of the Old Gods expansion pack. Four are minions; the one with the fancy outline is Legendary.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

More about minions

Minions can’t attack in the turn you play them, unless they have “Charge” as an ability (which enables them to go on the offensive when they hit the board). Most will sleep until the next round, when you can use them to do damage against other minions or the enemy hero.

Minions can have all kinds of effects; it’s worth scrolling through the lists of cards available online to browse and see them all. Many are “Battlecry” cards, which trigger a particular effect when you play them. Others are “Deathrattle” cards, that do something nifty when they die, like summon a weaker minion or dealing out damage.

Some minions have “Taunt,” which is kind of like a shield or a wall. You must destroy it before your minions or weapon can attack your opponent’s other cards or hero (Taunt doesn’t stop spells, though).

Some minions and spells can “Silence” on other minions, removing buffs they’ve received and taking away their ability to cast Deathrattle effects or to affect other cards.

A minion who is attacked does its damage to whatever is attacking it, as well as whatever you make it attack. So be careful that you don’t batter your little minions to death against stronger minions that your opponent may play.

Minions and spells are ranked by how rare they are. White is common; blue, rare; purple, epic; and orange, Legendary. You can tell the rarity of a card by the color of the gem in its center. Legendary cards also have dragon portraits around them; they’re hard to miss.

OK, so that doesn’t seem too hard. So how do you get started?


Above: Get used to seeing this … a ton.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

Lose. A lot

Assuming you’d like to dive into Hearthstone without spending any money, you’re going to start without any good cards. You get enough to play, but they’ll be an extremely basic selection. On the bright side, you won’t have to worry much about how to build a deck, because you won’t have many choices.

On the down side, you’re going to get your teeth kicked in.

So embrace your loser status. Don’t play against the A.I.; tackle real people. That’s how you’ll learn and get better. And go ahead and jump into ranked mode as quickly as possible. Man, are you going to die. But you’ll learn more there, from players who care about the game.

You have one job: Play enough games so that you level all the different types of heroes to 20. This bags you all their basic cards. You’re going to need them all at one time or another. Start by leveling a single hero to 20 first so you can do Tavern Brawls as quickly as possible (more on that in a minute.)

Even when you lose, your hero gains experience, and the more experience you earn, the more cards you’ll unlock. You earn more experience playing against other players than you do playing the A.I.

Do play Standard Mode (rather than Wild, which allows cards from all expansions and adventures.) You’ll earn your 13 free packs from the new expansion that way, albeit very … very … slowly, since you won’t be winning often.


Above: Ouch. This game ended poorly for my Mage. I learned a few things about how to play a shaman from my opponent, however.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

Learn. A lot

While you’re busy getting creamed, watch closely as other people play their cards. Some will be idiots, but many will show you how one card can influence another, buffing or multiplying their effects.

One minion might do damage when you summon other minions; another spell might summon multiple minions, causing the first card to do a decent bit of damage. And so on. You’ll learn by watching. Take notes.

But don’t just learn by watching your own opponents. If you have more-experienced Battle.net friends who play Hearthstone, spectate their matches as well. (Bonus: You sometimes get a quest for that.)

And watch the pros. I asked top Hearthstone player Brian “B.M.” Kibler what his one tip for newbies would be.

“There are a lot of resources available for new Hearthstone players to learn,” he said. “Some of the best are probably Twitch and YouTube channels of players who explain their decisions as they play, like Trump and Strifecro — or myself, if I’m into shameless self-promotion.”

I’d second his vote for Trump in particular; a veteran player tipped me off to his videos early, and they are both clear for new players and fun to watch. And Kibler is a truly nice guy, in addition to being a cracker-jack player and a Hearthstone commentator, which makes him a terrific one to watch as well.


Above: This week’s Tavern Brawl.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

Get Brawling

Once you have one hero to level 20, you can play in Tavern Brawls. These are fun contests with super-weird rules that change every week, and the first game you win in each Brawl earns you a free pack of five Classic set cards.

Many Tavern Brawls give you random or premade decks. Some require you to build a deck. You probably haven’t done that yet, so break out those Googling fingers and search for the name of the Brawl you’re doing and “basic decks.” You’ll find a ton of options, and the “basic” will limit it to cards you have in hand. Literally.

Hearthstone gives you daily quests to win with particular heroes, or by playing particular types of cards. Those quests earn gold, which you can use to buy card packs, and they earn it more quickly than the 10-gold-for-three-wins that you are probably painfully hobbling along with at this point.

Tavern Brawls are terrific places to earn that gold, because they’re much more dependent on randomness (known as RNG, or random number generator, in the community), and your lack of any decent cards is less of a handicap. You can finish Quests in Brawls, as well as in any regular play against humans.


Above: Composing a deck involves picking cards from your collection, at left, and putting them into a 30-card deck list, at right.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

Learn to build decks – or copy other people’s lists

I’ll admit something: I’m a much, much better Hearthstone player than I was four months ago. But I still can’t build a good deck.

I understand the theory. You want minions that cost different amounts so you don’t run out of cards too quickly or have to sit, waiting, with giant-cost cards idling in your hand that you don’t have the mana to play.

You want to include cards that have good synergy, playing off each other, and some that are good counters to the tactics other players use most. With the launch of the new Whispers of the Old Gods expansion, counters typically include some kind of transformation or instant-minion-kill card to deal with players using the powerful new C’thun board-killing monster card from the new expansion. (More on that in a second.)

But this is really the place where not having CCG experience will bite you. Never fear, fair Googler; let your fingers do the walking. You can find a huge assortment of Hearthstone decks out there, tested and tuned by more experienced players, and you can experiment until you find a balance that works for you.

Hint: I named two of my favorite decks “Kibler,” and not coincidentally.

Just be sure to search for “Standard Mode” decks or “Whispers of the Old Gods” decks so that you’re up to date on the latest cards.


Above: The new C’thun Legendary card is yours free for playing.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

Be choosy when buying cards

At least to start, it’s probably worth burying all the gold you earn back into buying card packs. You’ll spend 100 gold to buy a five-card pack. If you decide you love this game, you can spend money on packs, typically paying roughly $1.50 a go.

My advice is to sink all of it into Classic cards and cards from the new expansion, which will remain viable the longest. Because you’ll get at least one free Legendary minion (C’thun) as you play the new Standard Mode, it probably makes sense to devote a good chunk of your gold to the cards from the Whispers of the Old Gods packs, as many of them buff C’thun as you play.

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More teasers for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare appear on livestreams

Teaser for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Activision Blizzard has released more teasers for the next Call of Duty game, which rumors suggest will be called Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

In the Nuk3town multiplayer map in Call of Duty Black Ops III, Activision has released several teasers for Infinity Ward’s new Call of Duty video game coming this fall. The Infinity Ward game will be the newest installment in a series that has sold more than $15 billion worth in the past decade.

The teasers started yesterday with a new logo, and then an image of a big spaceship at the end of the Nuk3town multiplayer animation. The teaser appeared during a match with Karl-Anthony Towns on Twitch. More teasers appeared today in the form of an audio file from a bald, armored soldier making threats about how “we will rip you from the history books.” The soldier, “We will bury you in darkness. We are your enemy. We are the settlement defense fund.”

Activision’s Infinity Ward is making the new version of Call of Duty, which will likely debut this fall.

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About 40% of gamers will buy a VR headset in the next year

An archer in VR

The Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that represents the game industry in Washington, D.C., issued its annual report on the U.S. game industry this week. Here are some of the essential facts about the game industry.

About 40 percent of the most frequent gamers say they will likely purchase their own VR headsets within the next year, according to the survey by the ESA. That’s good news, since some are warning that VR is overhyped and could be slow to take off, even as others such as Digi-Capital predict that VR could be a $30 billion industry by 2020. 55 percent of the most frequent gamers are familiar with VR. And 58 percent of those familiar with VR say that they intend to play games on VR.

The ESA says that 63 percent of U.S. households have at least one gamer (defined as someone who plays video games three hours or more per week). Each household has an average of 1.7 gamers, and 65 percent of households own a device used to play games. Only about 48 percent of homes own a dedicated game console, so that means a lot of people either play on PCs or mobile devices.

The average age of the players is 35, and that person has been playing since the age of 13. The average age of female gamers is 44, and the average male gamer is 35. Women 18 and older are 31 percent of the game-playing population, while boys 18 or younger are 17 percent. 50 percent of all gamers are female, and 50 percent are … well, you know.

Consumers spent more than $23.5 billion on game content, hardware and accessories in 2015, compared to $22.4 billion in 2014. PC and console game software sales were $16.5 billion in 2015, compared to $15.4 billion a year earlier.

Don't trip over the wire.

Above: Don’t trip over the wire.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell/SVVR 2016

Shooter games are the best-selling category at 24.5 percent. Action games are 22.9 percent. Sports games are 13.2 percent. Role-playing games are 11.6 percent, and adventures games are 7.7 percent. About 56 percent of sales were digital games in 2015, compared to 52 percent a year earlier.

“This report illustrates how powerful storytelling, innovative hardware, and compelling design join together to fuel our industry’s growth and fan excitement. We are consistently upending traditional conceptions of entertainment and how consumers interact with media,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA, which represents the U.S. video game industry (Gallagher will be a speaker at our GamesBeat Summit event next week). “These advancements provide new opportunities for audience engagement, and have established this industry as the leader in groundbreaking entertainment and high-tech development.”

The report underscores growing trends. About 45 percent of respondents said they follow esports on social media. 40 percent follow coverage on cable TV, and 38 percent stream coverage live.

When it comes to buying the average of the most-frequent game purchaser is 38. Males are 60 percent of purchasers, and 52 percent of the most frequent gamers feel that video games provide more value for their money than DVDs (23 percent), music (14 percent), and going to the movies (10 percent). 41 buy games without having tried them; 31 percent download the full game from the company’s web site, and 30 percent buy after downloading the trial version or demo.

ESA sales figures

Above: ESA sales figures

Image Credit: ESA/NPD

As for platforms, 56 percent play on PCs, 53 percent play on consoles, 36 percent play on smartphones, 31 percent play on wireless devices, and 17 percent play on dedicated handhelds.

About 48 percent of the most frequent players play social games. On mobile devices, 38 percent play puzzle, board, or card games. 6 percent play action. 6 percent play strategy games.

The report also says 54 percent of the most frequent gamers play with others. 40 percent play with friends, 21 percent play with family members, 17 percent play with parents, and 15 percent play with spouses.

Of those who play multiplayer and online games, the average time spent playing with others online is 6.5 hours, and the average time spent playing with others in-person is 4.6 hours. 53 percent of the most frequent gamers feel that games help them connect with friends, and 42 percent feel games help them spend time with family. 75 percent of the most frequent gamers say that playing games provides mental stimulation or education.

The majority of parents (86 percent) are aware of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating system. Among them, 97 percent believe the rating system is accurate. About 79 percent of parents place limits on playing video games, and 74 percent place limits on Internet usage.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III was the most popular console game in 2015, while The Sims 4 was the most popular PC game.

The survey was conducted for ESA by Ipsos MediaCT, which surveyed more than 4,000 American households.

Samsung Gear VR users at SVVR Expo.

Above: Samsung Gear VR users at SVVR Expo.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell/SVVR 2016

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GamesBeat Summit: 37 speakers, 39 CEOs and founders, and lots of networking

GamesBeat Summit crowd from 2015 event.

We’re about to hold our second annual GamesBeat Summit event on May 3-4 at the Cavallo Point. I’m very excited to say that we’re going to be have a lot of very interesting people in the room. We’re still signing up people to attend and we hope to have about 180 guests overall.

Right now, the roster includes 39 CEOs and company founders among the attendees. We’ve also got a lot of CMOs, senior vice presidents, chief operating officers — and then there’s me. Our theme is focused on the narrative of underdogs in the game business and the strategies they use to win. We’re trying to get the right people in the room, including executives from the platform companies. Right now, we have attendees from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Unity, Epic, and a big company in the vicinity of Cupertino.

We have talented game developers like Sam Barlow and Will Wright coming, investors who have funded many of the game industry’s important startups, and media luminaries like Robert Scoble and Will Mason of UploadVR. We’ll have attendees from the critical companies who can help developers with tasks like monetization, distribution, and discovery. If you want to take your business into a new territory, we’ll have the experts there to do it. My hope is to gather everyone who can help make more deals happen in the $99 billion game ecosystem.

GamesBeat Summit in 2015.

Above: GamesBeat Summit in 2015.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell/VentureBeat

Games are everywhere, and everything is a game. (OK, well, they’re 60 percent of U.S. households, according to the Entertainment Software Association). Games have gone global. Games find their way onto every new platform, whether it’s mobile, virtual reality, or augmented reality. Platforms that support games are more successful. We have seen so many changes. Fifteen years ago, what sane person would have predicted that a 100-person mobile game company would arise in Siberia? That shows that the gaming world is flat and that good game developers can come from anywhere. We’ll have a roundtable with Kabam’s Kent Wakeford on this topic.

Robbie Bach will lead off the discussion with a look back at the launch of the original Xbox and the lessons that it holds for those creating new platforms, like VR. Tim Sweeney of Epic Games will tell us about the meaning of openness in a world with many game platforms. Rami Ismail of Vlambeer will help voice the concerns of the indie game development community, and Noah Falstein of Google will give our lone solo talk about game design lessons for VR.

Peter Phillips of Marvel will open day two with an examination of gaming and the Marvel franchise. Owen Mahoney will update us on his view of gaming as a unique blend of art and commerce in a fireside chat with me.

Then, at mid-day on day two, we’ll do something new. We’ll have a round of “lightning talks” from five very interesting leaders. Tim Merel, CEO of Eyetouch Reality and managing director of Digi-Capital, will speak on The reality of AR/VR business models. Sam Barlow, executive creative director at Interlude, will talk about how Imagination is still the most powerful game engine. Don Daglow, CEO of 4thRing, will promote mentoring in his talk, Games industry mentoring: A cup in the bucket. Kathy Astromoff, vice president of game developer success at Twitch, will update us on the fast-growing community. And Amy Jo Kim, mentor at Maven Ventures, will talk about Getting to alpha.

Peter Phillips is the Executive Vice President & General Manager, Interactive & Digital Distribution for Marvel Entertainment.

Above: Peter Phillips is the Executive Vice President & General Manager, Interactive & Digital
Distribution for Marvel Entertainment.

Image Credit: Marvel

We’ve got a series of roundtables on monetization, mobile engagement, gaming regions, game deals, ad fraud, and managing crunch. These frank and honest sessions should be eye-opening. We’re also going to have fun with a team-building exercise.

Jeri Ellsworth of CastAR will talk about the underdog’s tale of creating a new augmented reality platform in a chat with UploadVR’s Will Mason. John Riccitiello of Unity has been warning about a wave of disappointment coming in the wake of VR hype, and he’ll update his views in a fireside chat with the Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher. Mihai Pohontu of Samsung will talk about how that big company is making investments in game platforms and VR. And Paul Bettner, CEO of Playful and creator of the Lucky’s Tale game on the Oculus Rift, will take us into the future with a talk on VR with GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb.

The GamesBeat event is about the global business of gaming, which is growing in so many ways and becoming a bigger part of the entertainment and technology industries. We’ve designed this year’s summit to be a more intimate experience for the leaders of the gaming world. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and esports are re-energizing developers. Our speakers will shed light on the landscape and help you make the right decisions so your company can grow. We’ll have a lot of fun events, like a Microsoft reception with s’mores and whiskey.

If you want to apply for an invitation, please click here. And here is the full agenda.

The International Game Developers Association chief Kate Edwards talks game-design job satisfaction with USGamer senior editor Kat Bailey at GamesBeat 2015.

Above: The International Game Developers Association chief Kate Edwards talks game-design job satisfaction with USGamer senior editor Kat Bailey at GamesBeat 2015.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell/GamesBeat

Our previously announced speakers include:

Kate Edwards, executive director of the IGDA. She will address the topic of uncompensated crunch time in a roundtable at the summit. Edwards said that the game industry has always had extreme works hours that eventually became accepted as “normal.” These extended periods of crunch time require people to go work far beyond standard hours to make up for the company’s inability to effectively manage a project and/or manage creative expectations for a given time frame. While crunch is a reality of most every creative medium, there is a better way to manage its infliction on employees, primarily by instituting a policy of upfront disclosure and enabling employees to choose the kind of conditions in which they will create, Edwards said.

Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, on stage at GamesBeat 2015 with Dean Takahashi.

Above: Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, on stage at GamesBeat 2015 with Dean Takahashi.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell/VentureBeat

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games. Sweeney has spent 25 years as graphics guru and maker of games such as Unreal and Gears of War, as well as the upcoming release Paragon. Sweeney is one of the brains behind the Unreal Engine, one of the vital tools for the development of 3D games on everything from mobile to high-end virtual reality titles.

He also understands that business, technology, and games are intimately linked. He has been a passionate speaker on openness for the PC and recently tangled with Microsoft on its approach to openness in Windows 10.

Sweeney has been one of the industry’s seers when it comes to 3D graphics in video games. He recently predicted that game developers would use VR to create games, and he gave a talk at the ChinaJoy 2015 event, where he predicted that perfect augmented reality glasses could one day mean that we won’t need big-screen monitors, TVs, or even smartphone or tablet screens. His reasoning: If we have the equivalent of 40-feet screens in front of our eyes at any time we want (maybe in the next decade), the rest of the screens in our lives become superfluous.

Paul Bettner

Above: Paul Bettner

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Lucky’s Tale creator Paul Bettner, the CEO of Playful. Bettner’s 3D platformer title Lucky’s Tale is bundled with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and it’s a blend of Crash Bandicoot and Mario in a new dimension. Bettner started Playful to create VR experiences. His previous studio, Newtoy, was acquired by Zynga, and Words With Friends is still one of Zynga’s top titles. Bettner is one of the few game developers who has already launched a major title for the VR headsets, and we’d like to know what he’s learned.

Sam Barlow wins grand prize for Her Story at IGF.

Above: Sam Barlow wins grand prize for Her Story at IGF.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Sam Barlow, the creative director at Interlude. Barlow was a big winner at the Game Developers Choice Awards and the Independent Games Festival in March. Her Story uses full-motion video to tell the tale of a missing man. It focuses on police interviews with his wife, Hannah Smith, portrayed by British musician Viva Seifert. Barlow is a game director and writer who has been making games since his cult 1999 title Aisle. Barlow has an extensive history of making games that create deep personal connections with their players. With Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, he created a classic that psychologically profiled Wii gamers.

Dan Fiden, chief strategy officer at FunPlus.

Above: Dan Fiden, chief strategy officer at FunPlus.

Image Credit: Dean Takhashi

The investor panel speakers include Dan Fiden, the chief strategy officer at Beijing-based FunPlus, which recently set up a $50 million fund to invest in mobile games and other game-related companies. He’ll be joined in the roundtable by Jay Eum, the managing director at Translink Capital; Phil Sanderson, the managing director at IDG Ventures; and Sunny Dhillon, a partner at Signia Venture Partners. They’ll talk about everything from virtual reality to mobile game investments and what draws their attention as seasoned investors in the game startup ecosystem.

Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch.

Above: Kathy Astromoff, the vice president of developer success at Twitch.

Image Credit: Twitch

Kathy Astromoff, the vice president of developer success at Twitch, the largest game livestreaming video platform and community for gamers. She has extensive experience in game developer relations and business marketing, including stints at Sega, Ageia, and Game Developers Conference parent UBM. Kathy has contributed to the International Game Developers Association in various roles, including foundation trustee, board chair, and women’s SIG contributor. She follows Cal football through thick and thin, and her favorite scotch is not too peaty.

Amy Jo Kim, game designer.

Above: Amy Jo Kim, game designer.

Image Credit: Amy Jo Kim

Veteran game designer Amy Jo Kim will talk about helping clients find their “alpha moment” in game design and how that can level the playing field for game developers around the world. Kim has a background in neuroscience, computer science, and psychology. She has applied that knowledge to both game design and web community architecture. Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, Ultima Online, eBay, Family.com, Nytimes.com, Indiegogo.com, and numerous startups. In 2000, she published the book Community Building on the Web. She has a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Washington and is an adjunct game design professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

GamesBeatSummit_JohnRiccitiello2John Riccitiello, the CEO of Unity Technologies, is returning for the second year to our GamesBeat Summit. Riccitiello has been expanding Unity’s reach as a game engine that is democratizing game development by making it easier than ever to make games and publish them across platforms. And now he is adding services for game developers such as advertising and monetization. The former CEO of Electronic Arts is also reportedly raising money at a very healthy valuation. We’re looking forward to quizzing him on a variety of topics in a fireside chat.
Mike Vorhaus (right) of Magid Advisors interviews Owen Mahoney of Nexon at GamesBeat 2015.

Owen Mahoney, the CEO of Nexon. Mahoney is a veteran of the GamesBeat stage, and he continues to make interesting strategic moves in gaming. Most recently, the company acquired DomiNations developer Big Huge Games, a Western studio founded by game pioneers Brian Reynolds and Tim Train. Mahoney has been signing up a lot of famous game developers, mostly by pitching gaming as an art form. He spoke at last fall’s GamesBeat 2015 event, and we’re happy to have him back.
Jeri Ellsworth is a self-taught chip designer at Technical Illusions.

Jeri Ellsworth, the cofounder of augmented reality glasses maker CastAR, will talk about augmented reality glasses based on the company’s new platform. CastAR glasses will be able to overlay animations and other imagery on top of the real world. It’s a creative product from an interesting hardware tinkerer. Ellsworth taught herself how to design chips and became known in 2004 for creating a Commodore 64 system on a chip with a joystick. She went on to become a hardware hacker and was part of a team of researchers at Valve, the maker of the Half-Life games and the new SteamVR virtual reality technology.

Mike Gallagher, the CEO of the Entertainment Software Association. Gallagher is returning to speak as the chief lobbyist for the game industry. We caught him recently at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, where he aggressively defended and praised the game industry for its fast growth and expansion to new platforms. Gallagher is the chief spokesman for an industry that has reached $99.3 billion in sales around the world, according to market researcher Newzoo.

Gallagher noted that just two decades ago, video games were a niche. Now games are an economic driver, he said, with $23.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 sales across physical and digital segments. And they remain an innovative force in technology, too — just look at how games could be the killer app for virtual reality. The U.S. has 1,800 video game facilities (companies and offices), with more than 1,600 publishers and developers. And 406 universities have degrees or curricula in video games.
Marvel's Peter Phillips goes over the ins-and-outs of being a brand steward.

Peter Phillips, the executive vice president and general manager of interactive and digital distribution for Disney’s Marvel Entertainment. He oversees Marvel’s New York digital media division, which creates and manages web, app, and social media experiences. He also runs the Los Angeles video games unit, which oversees the development of multiplatform games, and the L.A. digital film and video distribution group.

Basically, he licenses game publishers and developers to make games based on Marvel properties, and that responsibility is a serious one. When he spoke at our event last year, he viewed the role as a “brand steward,” or being a caretaker who was very careful about what he allowed others to do with Marvel brands. We’re delighted to have him back for a fireside chat at a time just before the May 6 debut of Captain America: Civil War in theaters.

Robbie Bach

Robbie Bach, the former chief Xbox officer. Microsoft lost $5-7 billion on the original Xbox, launched in 2001. And it made billions of dollars on the Xbox 360. Depending on the time frame in which you look at it, this was either an insane waste of money or the finest strategic decision that Microsoft ever made. Robbie Bach had to make the call to do it or not. He was the chief Xbox officer from 2000 to 2010. After two console cycles, Bach decided to do work as a “civic engineer” to help fix both charities and governments. We look forward to a discussion of what Bach learned from his efforts and how they are relevant today to companies that are trying to establish new platforms. Bach recently wrote a memoir book, Xbox Revisited, about his time at Microsoft and his own efforts to fix our country’s civic problems.

Rami Ismail, cofounder of Vlambeer, maker of Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing.

Rami Ismail, the cofounder of Vlambeer. Ismail is one of the most visible independent game developers in the world. The cofounder of the Netherlands-based Vlambeer is trying to use that fame to give back to the indie community and do good. The studio’s has a signature style, and fans have supported it all the way. Five years ago, Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman started the company. Their hits include Super Crate Box (2010), Serious Sam: The Random Encounter (2011), Gun Godz (2012), Ridiculous Fishing (2013), Luftrausers (2014), and Nuclear Throne (2014). Ismail has also been active supporting indies with the Indie Press KitDoDistribute, DoToolKit, and GameDev world. Ismail is outspoken on social issues, and he has taken gamers to task for online harassment. And he remains a big advocate for the global gaming business.

Noah Falstein, chief game designer at Google

Noah Falstein, the chief game designer at Google. Falstein has had a long history of making video games. But at Google, which doesn’t make traditional video games, you would think that he doesn’t have much to do. But he does. Falstein noted in a panel that I moderated last year that Google supports games across the whole spectrum, perhaps more so than any other company. Much of its focus is in getting the next billion people to play games on such platforms as Android devices and virtual reality.

At last year’s Game Developers Conference, Falstein talked about doing games using Google’s Project Tango, the augmented reality technology that can map the 3D space around you and, using a tablet screen or future augmented reality glasses, project an interactive experience into that space. You can conceivably play a 3D horror game inside your own house where you hide behind your own furniture to escape a monster. Falstein has also talked about creating games such as the massively multiplayer online mobile game, Ingress, which was recently spun out of Google as Niantic. Falstein has served in game design roles at the Inspiracy, Suddenly Social, NF Interactive, LucasArts, Dreamworks, and 3DO.

Neil Young of N3twork

Neil Young, the CEO of N3twork. Young and Bob Stevenson launched N3twork as a social network based on interests groups in 2013. It didn’t take off as expected, so they pivoted last fall into mobile gaming. That was an unusual move, but it showed how flexible Young was in adapting to the fast-changing market. And, if anything, gaming has been changing fast in the past few years. It won’t be an easy path as big companies are starting to dominate the top-grossing games in mobile. But Young has pulled off some interesting feats in the past. In 2008, he started Ngmoco with Stevenson at the dawn of the iPhone era. Japan’s DeNA, a mobile and social gaming company, acquired Ngmoco for $400 million in 2010. Before that, Young spent years working on triple-A games such as The Lord of the Rings, The Sims, and the experimental Majestic game at Electronic Arts. He built his first game when he was 14.

Some of our topics include:

Monetization: Where mobile game monetization meets marketing and retention

You cannot monetize efficiently without first having an engaged audience. This discussion will host an open round table of mobile experts to dive into crafting the perfect balance between monetization, retention and marketing, creating a game funnel that generates revenue.

Deals: Follow the money

The conventional wisdom says that it’s smarter to invest in the emerging markets of augmented reality and virtual reality than in mobile games. But FunPlus recently announced a $50 million fund to invest primarily in mobile games. The overall surge of investment dollars into private gaming companies has been followed by a slowdown in recent months. Will this snail’s pace continue, or will we see certain segments start the upward cycle again?

Ad fraud: How to deal with it

There’s a dirty secret in mobile gaming when it comes to acquiring users. You have to be able to detect fraud to be able to make sure that you’re really monetizing the way you think you are.

Is the gaming world flat?

What are the ingredients necessary to turn a region into a hub for great game development? That’s a good question, and it’s an economic gold mine for any region that figures it out since games have become a $90 billion industry, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.

Disclosure and choice: How we can manage “crunch”

Since its emergence, the game industry has always had a problem of extreme work hours that came to be accepted as “normal”. These extended periods of “crunch time”, wherein developers are expected to go work far beyond standard hours to make up for the company’s inability to effectively manage a project and/or manage creative expectations for a given time frame. While crunch is a reality of most every creative medium, there is a better way to manage its infliction on employees, primarily by instituting a policy of upfront disclosure and enabling employees to choose the kind of conditions in which they will create.

The evolution of engagement

Engagement has meant very different things for mobile gaming ads over time, and we’ll examine how to retain the attention of mobile gamers with ads today.

Our event advisory board includes:

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